Twenty and One Turns

December 26, 10:03PM

Amidst the steady streams of boisterous laughter and sleazy conversations, he could hear her patent burst of giggles. It wafted and rose above other men's, which inevitably made not a few heads warily turn her way.

A vein popped on Okumura Yukio's head as he stiffly made his way to the woman's table. Trust Kirigakure Shura to choose a pub of all places—in all of Assiah – for a meeting place.

He barely stopped himself from slapping his palm on his aching temples when he noticed how casually the lady professor had propped both feet up the table. Her long, well-muscled legs were in full, glorious display underneath the damn microscropic fabric masquerading as shorts. Surrounding her were men who seemed to enjoy more than the woman's company at the moment; Yukio noted the lustful gazes that feasted on his colleague's curvaceous form.

The woman's mauve eyes immediately spotted him. Her smile widened, and in his trained eyes, turned a tad more diabolical.

"Yuhoo! Scaredy cat four-eyes!" Suddenly, she was on her feet, waving cheerfully at him. He hated to admit it every time, but the woman's lithe and speed, honed by her excellent swordmanship, was flawless to the point.

"This better be important, Professor Kirigakure," he muttered darkly as he slid to a seat next to her. The men immediately dispersed upon sensing that they were sitting with people who were more than just patrons of a pub intending to get drunk.

"I'll make it worth yer while," she promised with a smirk that meant otherwise. Her hand reached for the nearby bottle of spirits on the table. "Here, have a drink. It'll loosen you up."

He scowled. "I will do no such thing."

"Oh c'mon! Don't be such a wuss!"

"You are asking an underage boy to drink. Have you no shame?"

"Ladies' drinks are much more potent than this,"she said with a snicker. "It's chocolate wine, though I think this one's more like wine-flavored chocolate if you ask me." She eyed the wine label condescendingly.

"I didn't come here to debate how much alcoholic content must a beverage hold in order to be deemed respectable to your standards, Professor," he said through gritted teeth. He tossed a crumpled piece of paper on the wooden table.

Shura's eyes gleamed. "Ah yes, my note." On it was written "see me at the 7th street pub tonight or I will announce to the academy that you spent last night with me at my bunk".

"You're despicable," he hissed.


December 26, 10:08 PM

"So what is this about?" he repeated, tucking his hands under his chin.

Shura held out two fingers on her left hand and one on her right hand.

His forehead creased. "Three?"

"NO! It's twenty-one, you idiot!" She rolled her eyes.

"What kind of finger arithmetic is that?"

"Look, the point is, we're partners," she explained calmly.

"Most certainly not—"

"—and you have to be openly transparent with me so we can work together. I, the sword, and you, as your brother's sheath." Her purple eyes bore through his own. "Tonight is an exercise of cooperation. You will tell me what you like, what you dislike, and I will not really care whether those are within moral boundaries or not. What I will do is I'll keep them in mind so we can have the smoothest relationship possible."

He nearly raised an eyebrow. "Color me surprised, but that is hardly something I know you will concern yourself with."

He stifled a gasp when she suddenly lurched towards him, her serious face inches away from his. "I dislike men who makestupid, lazy generalizations about me." Despite her voice barely rising above a whisper, he could hear the deathly warning laced in it. And for the life of him, he couldn't open his mouth to speak, let alone compel himself to think clearly. All the while, Shura's intoxicated breath fanned his face while her proud breasts effectively squashed his chest.

Then out of the blue, he heard a soft, gentle voice resonate in his hazy brain. Kudzu roots can help you, Yuki-chan! See that, I'm using plant nicknames less andless, just like you said on my first test!

He felt like a bucket of water was thrown all over him, and a second later, he felt his breathing return to normal. Shura noticed this, too. Her gaze lingered intently on him for a couple of seconds before she abruptly leaned back against her own seat. "Okay, yer turn!" she said cheerfully.

"W-what?"

She raised her hands again, showing the same number of fingers as earlier. "Twenty-one. Each of us will take turns stating something about our likes and dislikes until we reach Turn 21."

"This is what high schoolers tend to do on sleepovers," he protested.

"We've already began. Turn 2." She crossed her arms and looked at him expectantly.

He sighed.

"Talk on your turn, or else you'll drink this instead." She gestured to the chocolate wine.

Another sigh from him. "Give me a glass, please."

"How very proper of ya, Professor Okumura," she said mockingly. She did, however, hand the glass he was asking for.


December 26, 10:28 PM

Not good. Yukio cupped his head as his vision blur started to worsen. He tried to glare at the woman and the chocolate wine bottle… or was it wine-flavored chocolate? Whatever it was, he hated it it with a burning passion. That thing was spurning his senses into overdrive!

He took Turns 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 with haughty gulps of liquor. Shura did the same (but with a much stronger drink, to his ire), and for a brief moment he was grateful for the rare silence between them. However by Turns 12 and 14, he started to sway clumsily in his seat. On Turns 16 and 18, he was starting to contemplate whether he should have chosen to do a few carefully-crafted wholesome revelations instead of slowly getting drunk.

He was now on Turn 20, and he could barely raise his head from the table. Wait, when and how did he end up lying facedown on the table?

Somewhere he could hear more derisive laughter from Shura. "Scaredy cat four eyes, you sure have goddamn talent! How can you get drunk with something like this? Even normal people take a hundred glasses of chocolate wine before they start feeling tipsy!"

He wanted to retort that he was not in any way normal, being a spawn of Satan, but he silently wondered whether that fact made him all the more susceptible to drunken stupor. If it were true, that would have been both the saddest comedy of his life. Defeating Satan with eleven glasses of chocolate wine. Heh.

"Don't ya dare pass out on me, Scaredy Cat Four Eyes! Yer not done with your turn yet!"

He grimaced. Count on Shura to be more concerned about her game's little technicalities over her partner's state of health.

He then heard her loudly asking a pub staff for "a glass of water to wake Sleeping Beauty up". Good Lord. His dignity, or what was left of it, compelled him to the throbbing pain, he lifted his head."S-Shut up," he murmured weakly.

The swordswoman threw him a surprised glance. "Oh, you're still alive. And your speech hasn't slurred that much. I'm impressed!"

His eyes narrowed at that. Beside him, a displeased man materialized with a pitcher of water and a couple of glasses. On his shirt was the ID stating his position—a Manager. Oh, he'd be displeased alright.

After politely thanking the manager, he faced the woman squarely. "A-alright, I choose Talk." He lifted the glass to his lips, intending to clear his throat.

"Very well." Her purple eyes gleamed in an all-too familiar way—a lot like how a hungry lioness eyes her next feast. "Tell me about Moriyama Shiemi."

Water spurt out of his mouth. Shura deftly dodged the expelled beverage with a mere turn of the head.

He reached for a napkin, all too aware of blood rushing to his face. "I thought this is about me!" Any remaining chocolate wine spirit vanished completely in thin air.

"It is," she said affirmatively. "So tell me what you think about her."

He fought to regain his composure. "S-She is… Moriyama-san is a fine student. She shows a great wealth of potential as a Tamer. Moriyama-san is…"

In his mind appeared different visions of Shiemi which he clandestinely kept since he was 14. Shiemi handing him a clover leaf. Shiemi shyly peeking from behind their store's wall. Shiemi, in her blissful unawareness, as she tended her garden lovingly…

Unwittingly,a small smile blossomed on his face. "Shiemi has the gentlest of hearts, the quietest of bravery… Shiemi is the purest person I know."

"Uh-huh."

Reality kicked in when he saw Shura's triumphant smirk. He glared at her, his cheeks flushed. "That's it," he finished curtly. "Isn't it Turn 21 yet?" This was the most unfair competition he ever stupidly agreed to do. The woman seemed to have liquor running in her veins!

He was pointedly ignored. "She sounds special," she commented cheekily.

"Heh. I can't see why that's noteworthy." He shifted his gaze away from her. "After all, she is the biggest love of my brother's life," he finished softly.

"And probably yours, too."

He said nothing. And it was all that she needed to confirm what she knew all along.


December 26, 11:13 PM

"So why the sudden interest on my opinion regarding my student, Shura?" asked Yukio. His tone was once again business-like.

"Oh right, it's my turn now." The swordswoman cupped her cheek. "Come to think of it, I haven't been answering any questions during the entire game, eh?"

His eyes narrowed. "So you've noticed."

"Yosh! Let me answer that question at least." She grinned at him. "Remember what I told you about this being an exercise in cooperation so we can effectively look after Rin?" she asked in a sing-song tone.

He faintly recalled that. He gave her a curt nod.

"I lied."

"WHAT?" Yukio shot up furiously, slamming both palms on the tabletop, sending the bottles wobbling dangerously over the edge of the circular table. "You better have a good reason for all of this then!"

Shura propped both arms behind her head smilingly. "We don't always see eye to eye, Yukio—"

"Try never!"

"—but I know you're a good kid." She gave him a fond smile. "Good enough for me to threaten with a rumor of carnal trysts, at least. "

Yukio wanted nothing more at the moment than to crumple to the ground.

"I happen to know that it's your birthday today, too."

"You do?"

"Yep. Rin called to remind me, since he's currently away on training and he was worried that you might end up forgetting about it. So I assured him that you wouldn't be celebrating your 17th birthday alone."

He sweatdropped. His big brother knew him like the back of his own hand. "But wait… you mean, the invitation, the drinking game, Shiemi… all of these are just part of an elaborate birthday date?" he yelped, incredulous.

"Well, yeah, if you put it that way," laughed Shura. At last, she got up from her seat. "A good kid always deserves a good birthday present." She nonchalantly dropped a key on the table. "Happy Birthday, Professor Okumura."

"And just what is this key for?" he asked.

"Oh, didn't I tell you? It's Moriyama's house key. " Her violet eyes glistened in mischief. "She's been looking for it the whole day, so if you don't return that to her, she might end up sleeping outside her own home. Poor girl." Before the male could react, she gracefully strutted out of the pub.

Yukio's face darkened as he stared at the key. Shura, you…


December 26, 11:51 PM

It seemed Shura was right.

He found Shiemi seated outside her house, gazing serenely at her beloved plants. Though to his relief, she didn't look like she was preparing to camp out in the garden. In fact, it almost seemed like she was…

Waiting?

Shiemi sensed his presence at once. Her emerald eyes sparkled in excitement as she got up on her feet to meet him by the gate. "Yuki-chan! You're finally here!"

"I-I'm sorry I'm late," he apologized awkwardly. "The key—" He offered the key to her hesitantly.

"Whose key is that?" she asked curiously.

"I-isn't this your house key?"

"Eh? No, it's not."

"It's not?" he echoed, dumbfounded.

She vigorously shook her head. "Oh no, it's my mother who keeps important things like that," she explained smilingly. "I was waiting out here because Professor Kirigakure said you would be dropping by."

"I see…" Damn you, Shura! Flustered, he stashed the key back to his pocket. "W-well, I had to check and make sure that none of my students are missing their house key tonight. It was in the…uh, lost and found section this morning s-so… I got worried." He realized he was babbling at that point, what with the gape he was receiving from the girl. "I… guess I should be going—and you should be getting some sleep, too," he finished lamely.

"Thank you, Yuki-chan." Her green eyes softened. "You probably should, too. You look a bit tired." She frowned worriedly. "Are you pushing yourself too hard again?"

"Not at all," he said quickly. He didn't bother to explain that he ran in panic all the way to her house because he thought he had taken her house key hostage.

"Well, alright," she replied, "But before you go, I would like to give you something." She ambled towards the bench and picked up a fabric-wrapped package. She ran back to him, her cheeks flushed. "It's not much of a birthday gift, but I hope you like it."

A cold hand seemed to touch his heart. "Thank you, Shiemi. I do appreciate it. This is…" He started to unwrap her gift.

"It's a year's supply of organic vitamin supplements," she cheerfully explained. "You see, every year, Yuki-chan always seems to forget himself because he's too busy taking care of others. I want Yuki-chan to reserve at least one day of the year to worry about himself for a change." She raised her point finger scoldingly. "Yuki-chan, there are 365 pieces of medicines in that box. Just take one per day and you'll feel really energized! It's a Moriyama Shiemi secret formula, so it's guaranteed!" She placed her hands on her hips. "And if you find that you've ran out of these, then you'll know it's your birtday again, and you would have to ask for a supply from me again."

"Understood," he said with a grin.

Behind them, they heard the clock strike 12.


December 27, 12MN

Excitedly, Shiemi turned to him. "Happy birthday to you, Yukio!" She then turned her gaze to the vast night skies. "Happy birthday, Rin! I'm so happy that both of you were born in this world."

"Then and now, you never seem to tire of saying that," he remarked quietly.

"Because I don't think I can be thankful enough, either." Her eyes crinkled into a smile. "Because you make me so happy!"

As you do to me. Yukio closed his eyes happily. And for now, this is enough.

END